Bunkroom

It took me three days to paint one tiny room, but it was worth it.

I’ve posted the picture before–it is my daddy and my brother. The photograph was taken by my uncle, who was a professional photographer with Eastman Kodak Company.  It was titled Boy and Cowboy and won many awards in various photography contests.  It’s only fitting that it would go in the bunkroom!


Tiny little room, but the grands love it!

Threads of Grace, Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen

     Doc hurried to Claire’s side. “Somebody go get that hot-headed husband of hers. Trey, you carry her to the couch. It isn’t  unusual for a woman with child to pass out. I, for one, am mighty grateful someone was here to catch her.”
     SueAnna breathed a sigh then mentally scolded herself. Hadn’t she and Peter discussed this very thing only minutes ago. Wasn’t she the one who said she was going to choose to forget? She looked around the table and all eyes were on her, except Lily’s. The little girl held her dolly in front of her face, but it didn’t hide the quiver of her tiny shoulders.
     “Why, Miss Libby. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. Who do you have hiding behind you? That can’t be LilyAnna Rose Morrow, can it?” She moved the doll and met the tear-filled eyes of her baby sister. 
     “I wasn’t supposed to say ‘surprise’ ’til you saw me and now it’s not a surprise. I made Peter mad, didn’t I?”
     “Oh, sweetie. You didn’t make Peter mad. Your big brother was already angry and it has nothing at all to do with you.” She drew the little girl to her. “You know what? You just gave me the best present ever.” 
     Trey knelt by SueAnna’s chair, his eyes pleading for understanding. She leaned toward him and put her arms around his neck. “I”m glad you were here to help her,” she whispered. “Don’t worry about Peter. He’s going to have to fight his own ghosts. Did you know Lily was coming? “
     He stood and kissed her on the forehead then turned and swooped Lily off her feet and twirled her around in circles. “We surprised her, didn’t we punkin’?” He kissed her on the nose then set her on her feet. 
     SueAnna shook her finger at James. “You knew about this, didn’t you?”
     He leaned back his head and laughed. “Never had so much fun in all my life. Mercy it feels good to laugh for a change.” He wiped his eyes with his fingers. “You gave us a scare, you know.”
     Trey scooted a chair next to her and perched her little sister on his knee. “Lily, you and I need to have a serious talk. Think we can do that?”
     Lily took SueAnna’s hand. “Am I in trouble? I said mean things about him. I’m sorry.”
     Trey put his hands on each side of her face. “No, Lily, You’re not in trouble. I need to ask you to forgive me for the way I treated your big sister. I love her very, very much and want us to be a family. Would you be my little sister, too?”
     Lily held her doll to her ear for a bit, then smiled. “We forgive you, but Miss Libby says not to let it happen ever again. That’s all we got to say.” 

###  
     Adam stopped at the edge of the porch and plunged his hands into his pockets. Where did the hot-head go? Surely he was smart enough not to go traipsing off in this cold. A small speck on the horizon caught his attention and he took off in that direction. The wind was sharp and he pulled the collar of his coat higher onto his neck. Why hadn’t he taken the time to saddle his horse? The kid had a head start, and with his bum leg he’d never be able to catch up with him. 
     When the person ahead of him was met by a man on horseback, Adam stopped. The two seemed to converse and then the rider pulled the other one behind his saddle and headed toward him. His gaze met the horseman’s as they came to a stop in front of him.
     “Looks like someone was smart enough to have extra legs under him.” Adam extended his hand in greeting. “Good to see you again, Reverend Bowen. Certainly glad you showed up when you did. I didn’t have the strength to chase this pup much farther. How did you know to find us here?”
     “I was feeling guilty for never showing up at the KIM again. Alice Rawlings told me where you where. She wouldn’t answer any questions though, so decided to come see for myself. Why don’t I let you take the horse back, and Peter and I will walk.” Sage motioned for Peter to slide off. 
     “No, just let Peter in the saddle. He needs to get back to his wife as soon as possible.” 
     Sage dismounted and Peter got back into the saddle. Adam slapped the horses rump. “Give that horse a kick son, before I give you one.” He waited until Peter rode away then turned to Sage and took a deep breath. “You need to know what you’re gonna face once you step through the door of the mercantile.”
     “Bad?”
     “Been praying for a preacher-bad. That explain it? It’s a long story. Hope you got a couple of days.”
     “I got as long as the coffee lasts, sir. And I’m listening.”
###  
     Peter hesitated before he stepped into the mercantile. Would he ever learn to be a man? SueAnna was right—he ran every time he faced anything tough. The bell jangled as he entered, then he was met by a flying object—two flying objects—three flying objects before he found safety behind a counter which held a display of kettles and dishpans.
     “You made Claire cry. I’m tired of you silly men making your wives feel bad.” Lily stood with her arm cocked and loaded with a child’s shoe. “And you didn’t tell me hello or anything. You hurt my feelings, too.”
     Peter attempted to get to his feet, but as soon as his shoulders cleared the counter the loaded missile shot toward him “Lily, that’s enough. Stop it, or I’ll turn you over my knee. ” He scooted from behind the counter and snatched her off her feet then squeezed his arms around her. 
     Lily whimpered. “Would you really turn me over your knee?”
     “You’re awful sassy, little sister. Someone has to teach you some manners.” He tickled her ribs and she squirmed and giggled.
     “I know manners, but you don’t. Miss Libby told me.”
     “Oh, so Miss Libby is here, too? I don’t see her anywhere.”
     “She stayed by the shoes ’cause she didn’t want to get in trouble. The Holy Ghostes wil probably make me tell you I’m sorry and Miss Libby doesn’t like it when I do things that make me have to say I’m sorry.”
     “Well, good for Miss Libby. Now, could you tell me where I can find Claire?” If only he could prolong the dreaded encounter. The Holy Ghost was surely going to require an apology from him too.
     “She’s on Emma’s couch. First she cried, but now she and SueAnna are talking and laughing.”
     “Want to go with me to see her?” He prayed she would
     “I can’t. SueAnna told me to watch for you and Mr. Covington, then I was supposed to say put—that means I can’t go back in there ’til somebody tells me. I don’t like being little and having to always stay put.” Her brow wrinkled and her bottom lip stuck out like a perch.
    “Yeah. Well, sometimes it isn’t a lot of fun being a grown-up, either.” He took a deep breath. There was no putting it off. “You stay here, then. I’ll tell SueAnna you’re very obedient.”
     “Shall I tell Jesus you need help, or are you going to tell him yourself?” Lily retrieved Miss Libby from the stack of shoes and held her to her shoulder. 
     “I think we better both tell him.” He smiled at his little sister. How could one so small be so wise?”
     When Peter stepped to Claire’s side, SueAnna moved away. 
     “I’m so sorry. I blew it big time, didn’t I?”
     “I should say you did, buster.” But if you would give me a kiss it might help.” Claire’s dark eyes were loaded with mirth. “Honestly, my dear husband. Sometimes you are like a little boy.” She clasped her hands behind his neck and pulled him to her.
     SueAnna chuckled. “I can see I’m no longer needed here. I think perhaps I should go find my husband.” She blew Peter a kiss and turned to leave.
     “Wait, Sis.” He stood. “Uh…I think you should know Mr. Covington will be showing up here soon with…”
     “With who? Santa Claus, maybe?” She tittered
     “Not exactly. Would you believe…Sage Bowen?”
     She spun toward him. “Oh, Peter. What terrible timing.”
###  
    Trey shrugged his arms into the sleeves of his coat. Pa didn’t have any business out in this cold.
     “What are you doing?” Lily sat cross-legged in the front window of the mercantile.
     “Well, I’m looking to buy a little sister, and I think I found just the one I want.” He lifted her out and set her down on the floor. “What are you doing in there?”
     “I’m staying put. Where are you going?”
      “I”m going to help look for Peter.” He had one hand on the knob.
     “Peter is already here. He’s with Claire, and I prayed to Jesus to help him.”
     “Peter’s here? Are you sure?”
     “Yes, because I threw shoes at him for making Claire cry, and he said If I didn’t stop he was going to tun me over his knee.”
      Trey roared. “Oh, I would like to have seen that. I—”
      The doorknob jerked from his hand and a blast of cold air swept through the room as his Pa enter the room, followed by Sage Bowen.
     Trey touched his hat with his fingers to acknowledge his pa, then shouldered around the other man. He took a few steps, then the cold air hit him like a wake-up call. If he kept walking he’d be just like Peter, and Peter was stupid. He turned around and stepped back onto the porch.
     Lily curtsied when he re-entered the store. “Should I pray to Jesus to help you, too?”

    

     

What a Difference a Weekend Makes

The shadow you see is Bob on his 4-wheeler on the lake side, shooting back toward our seawall. The water you see here is only inches deep right around the dock. 

Another picture taken from the lake side showing how very dry we really were. The only reason we had water around the dock is because it had been dredged at one time. 

Water!! 


The water all came in over Memorial Weekend. It rained all day Friday, and we had puddles.  All day Saturday–and we had more and more and more puddles until by Sunday there was enough water to launch the boat and the grandkids swam. It has filled even more since then, and we are so very, very thankful. 

Now, we play!!  
Rob helping Tami man the hose

Father and Son
That hose is heavy when it’s charged. And it can send the innertube shooting across the lake!! 

Rob giving Katelyn instructions

And now they open the valve!!


It was a fun day!!








Threads of Grace

Chapter 15

One week before Christmas, 1873

     Ben stood in her kitchen while Alice Rawlings read the telegram from Mr. Taylor that instructed him to take Lily to the Nelson’s for Christmas. 
     ‘The man has lost his mind, Ben. I can’t let you take this itty bitty gal all the way to Prairie View ridin’ horseback. This is Kansas, for cryin’ in the mop water. Don’t he know how fast the weather can change?” She slapped the telegram down on the table. 
     He shrugged. “He knows, Alice. Probably knows better than any of us, but I’m followin’ orders. You know how homesick for her sister Lily has been. I reckon SueAnna is feelin’ the same. Maybe it would help her get well faster if they was together.” 
     Alice wiped the hem of her apron across her face. “I know. Poor little thing has cried herself to sleep the last two nights. It first it weren’t so bad, but I wonder if she thinks she’s been left for good? I’ll get her and you can tell her what’s gonna happen while I pack her things.”
     “Pack light, Alice. I don’t want to take the chance of getting caught in a winter storm with two horses to worry about. I’ll put Lily on with me and stuff the saddlebags full. Might make sure she’s wearin’ extra clothes to begin with.”
     Lily squealed with delight when she saw Ben. She was stuffed into so many layers she looked like a little duckling as she waddled toward him with her arms outstretched. He laughed at her obvious excitement as she threw her arms around his  neck. “Are we really going to see Annie?  I prayed to Jesus last night ’cause I wanted to see her for Christmas.”
     Ben hugged her then held her at arms length. “Well, see there. Jesus done answered your prayer.”
     A frown flitted between her big eyes. “What if she doesn’t remember me? Is Mr. Martin there? But what if Santa Claus can’t find me? Do you think they have snow in town? I like the snow, don’t you? We played in it, all except for April. She’s too little and Arnold couldn’t go outside either ’cause he has a drippy nose. We ate it too, except Abigail said we shouldn’t eat it because old Arf had been rolling in it. Arf is the dog. Isn’t it funny? Even the dog has an A name.”
     Alice chortled. “I can’t tell you how much we’re gonna miss this little gal.” She bent down to give Lily a squeeze. “Look Missy Prissy. I done wrapped Miss Libby so she won’t get cold.” She handed a pink flannel bundle to the little girl. “You mind Mister Ben, now. And tell your sister we all miss her. Okay?” She stood and wiped her eyes.
     Ben waited while Lily kissed all the kids goodbye. We gotta go, Sugar Miss.” He turned to the older woman and pulled her to him. ” What a fine woman you are, Alice Rawlings. You got so much room in her heart. SueAnna will never forget the kindness you done for her.” He kissed her cheek, and she pulled him closer to whisper in his ear. 
     “Tell SueAnna if this next one is a girl I’m gonna call her Anna Sue. Don’t have a boy’s name yet. Abe takes care of that.”
     Ben settled Lily in front of him and threw Alice a kiss as he rode away. That Abe—he sure enough took care of that.

Two days later
     Ben snuggled Lily deeper into her cocoon of blankets. “You warm enough, Sugar Miss?”
     “I’m nice and warm,” she answered, her voice muffled by the scarf around her nose and mouth. 
     Only another half day and they would be there. the moon was lurking in the western sky, but the winter sun was peeping over the hills turning the morning sky pink and coral. So far the weather had held. It was bitter cold, but there was no moisture and even the Kansas wind had been kind to them. 
     “Can you see, Lily?” She sat with her back against his chest, Miss Libby clutched securely in the saddle in front of her. She nodded her head in reply.
     “Let’s see which one can spot the first…oh, let’s say the first bird.”
     “Is this another game? I like your games but I don’t want to play right now.”
     “And why would that be? You’re not gettin’ sick, are you?” Please Lord, don’t let her get sick out here on the prairie.
     “I’m not sick, but my tummy is all fluttery like it has wings in it. And my eyes feel like crying.”
     Ben stopped the horse and lifted the blanket-pudgy girl so he could see her face. “Now, you want to tell me why your eyes feel like crying?” He pushed back her bonnet so he could see the bright blue orbs that talked even when she didn’t. “Don’t you know if you cry, you’ll have icicles on your face.?” He lifted her chin and rubbed his nose against hers.
     “But I don’t want to cry. Annie says my  mama used to say there were sad tears and happy tears. Do boys have all them tears inside of them, too?”
     Ben swallowed an unexpected lump. “They sure do, Lily.” He hugged her close. “I reckon God made us all with extra water inside and sometimes it just has to bubble out. And you know what?”
     “What? Is this another game?”
     “A very nice lady told me one time that when you cry, God catches all them tears and puts them in a bottle for us because he loves us so much.” 
     Lily laid her head against Ben’s chest and her shoulders trembled with sobs. Then as quickly as the tears came, they stopped. She sat up, wiped her eyes with her mittened hands, and gave him a heartwarming smile. “There’s I’m all done. I didn’t know if God had a big bottle ready so I just let out a few. I’ll save the rest for another time. I have a game to play. Do you want to play it with me?”
     He laughed. “You beat all, LilyAnna Rose Morrow. You sure do. Yes, I’ll play the game with you but you have to tell me the rules.”
     She cocked her head to one side. “Well, you know how the Rawlings all have names that start with A? I think that’s because Abigail’s papa’s name starts with A. Well, since I’m going to marry you when I get all growed up, I want to play a game and name all my babies with B. B makes a ‘buh’ sound, doesn’t it  I’ll start first—the first boy will be Buh…Benjamin. Now it’s your turn. You name the girls and I’ll name the boys. Won’t this be a fun game?”
     He didn’t answer. Couldn’t until the lump in his throat went down. He looked at the little red-nosed fairy in front of him. How much fun it would have been to have a little sister like this. He didn’t even know if he had siblings. How did one go about finding out those things?
     Lily pinched his nose. “You aren’t playing, and you said you would.”
     “Okay. Bethany rose. How’s that?”
     “You like roses just the same as my papa. That makes me very happy.”
    Lily had fallen asleep by the time they topped the ridge to start down into the small valley that nestled the town of Prairie View. Ben’s stomach growled and he chuckled in anticipation—Lorna always had food ready.
    He stopped at the hitching post in front of Nelson’s and shook Lily’s shoulders. “We’re here, punkin. Are you ready to surprise your sister?” He dismounted and lifted her down. When he reached for her hand, she pulled away.
     “No, I’m not ready. Just look at me. I must freshen up a bit—that’s what SueAnna would say. You haven’t even combed my hair once this whole time.” She stood with her hands on her hips, a miniature image of her big sister. Were all females like this? She was only six-years-old. They sure started young wanting things their way.
     “Well, I don’t know nothin’ about comin’ a girl’s hair. But we can’t do nothin’ standin’ out here in the cold like this. Let’s get you in where it’s warm enough to unwind you from all your bundles.”
     He managed to get her inside, but not without her constant reminder that she wasn’t going anywhere until her hair was combed.
     “Could I help? I probably know more about a woman’s hair than you do.” Ben’s eyes made contact with a very pretty lady. This must be Peter’s wife. 
     “I really want to help this little girl surprise her sister. We’ve all been waiting.”
     Lily’s face was a picture of confusion. “Who are you? Where’s my sister?”
     “Lily, this is your Aunt Claire, your brother Peter’s wife.” He smiled. “Where’s Peter? I’m sure he must be anxious to see this little gal.” He put Lily’s blankets and coats on a chair.
     “He’s keeping SueAnna company so she won’t suspect anything. She’s been begging Doc to let her get up and move around. Peter’s trying to keep her in her room until someone signals him to bring her in here.”
     “Is Trey here?” He wasn’t sure he should even mention his friend’s name.
     “He’s back in the living quarters with everyone else, waiting for  you. I don’t know how Mr. Covington knew you’d be in today, but he’s had everyone corralled in there for the last hour. It’s a good thing  you came. Lorna is about to burst with excitement.”
     “You sure you’re okay with Lily?” He hated leaving the little i mp. He never knew what might spill out of her mouth.
     Clair smiled and put her arm around the little girl. “We’ll be fine. You go on and we’ll come shortly. Lorna picked out a new dress for Lily. I’ll bring her back just as soon as I get her all ready.”

###  
     “Peter Morrow, are you in cahoots with Doc? I’m so tired of this room I could cry. Please, just take me to Lorna’s kitchen and let me sit and talk with her while she putters around. I don’t need your help, you know. I’m perfectly strong enough to make it on my own.”
     “You go walking in there on your own and your Trey would skin me alive.” Peter gave her a wicked grin.
     She sat down in the rocker. “Peter, is everything okay now? I mean…are you and Claire talking again? I didn’t hear the usual sarcasm in your voice when you said ‘your Trey’, this time.”
     He sat down on the floor in front of her and crossed his legs Indian-style. “I’m no longer angry, if that’s what you mean. Trey and Claire have both explained to me their relationship, and I know, in my gut, there’s nothing to fear. But my mind is evil, sister dear. I am having a hard time forgetting.”
     “You can’t forget on your own, Peter. We’ve already talked about that. I know what you mean, though. There are times when my mind runs away with the picture of them hugging that night. it doesn’t make me angry—it just makes me so terribly afraid.”
     “Were you afraid when Ma and Pa died? I was. That’s why I left you and Lily here. I didn’t how to take care of you and it scared me. But when I remember how Trey and Claire looked at one another—that’s a different kind of fear. I can’t explain it.” He gazed at the floor. “I was ready to leave before I knew you and Claire had talked.”
     “You can’t keep running away when times are tough, brother. Where do you think you could go where God couldn’t find you? Claire loves you so much. It was never in her wildest imagination to run into Trey again, or to hurt you so much in the process.”
     “I know,” he lifted his eyes to her. “How do you do it, SueAnna? How do you forget?”
     “I don’t. Remember what I told you earlier? I have to choose to forget and let the Lord take care of all the little details. Sometimes, when the scary thoughts keep darting in and out of my mind, I sing—like Mama did. I sometimes wonder if she was trying to forget, or if she just loved Jesus so much she couldn’t help but let it out in song.”
     “I never thought about her singing maybe being a way to forget. What do you remember her singing the most? Maybe I should learn the words.”
   She smiled. “I’ll teach you the words, but you have to promise you won’t sing—at least not where anyone can hear you.” She began to sing softly. When she got to the second verse, Peter interrupted.
     “I remember that song. Do you think this was the only part Mama sang? I don’t remember the others, but I can see her rocking and singing this over and over.” He joined hands with SueAnna and together they sang. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”
###  
     Doc stood at the doorway of SueAnna’s room and let the brother and sister finish their song. “Well, little Miss. You think you’re ready to come and joins us for a cup of coffee and a piece of Lorna’s apple pie?” He laughed as she squealed and hugged Peter’s neck.
     “Really? You’re really going to let me get out of this dungeon?” She clapped her hands like a child.
     “Sure am. But you got to promise to hike it right back to bed if you start getting tired. You can’t afford to go backward, SueAnna.”
     She kissed him on the cheek. “I promise. Oh, do you have an idea how good it will be to see another part of this place? I can tall you exactly how many fly specks are on Lorna’s bedroom ceiling.” She hurried the short distance to the big room that served as kitchen, dining and living room. Peter took her hand as they entered.
    They were met my somber faces. No one moved. No one even spoke. Trey look at SueAnna, then at Peter—and Claire was cradled in his arms.
    The bell above the door jangled as Peter fled the mercantile.
    SueAnna moved to the table and grabbed the side for support.
   “Surprise,” Lily shrieked at the top of her voice.
     

Oops!!

There are times when my mind must blank out completely. Such as these past few days. 

There was a good reason!! 

Well, good might be subjective.

But–there WAS a reason.



I had company!! 

And I loved EVERY minute of it!!


Threads of Grace

Chapter 14

One week later

     “I missed Thanksgiving Day, didn’t I?” SueAnna sat propped against her pillows while Trey brushed her hair.
     He kissed the tip of her nose. “Not mine. The moment you opened your eyes and smiled was my Thanksgiving.”
     “Trey, did you call me Annie? I kept hearing someone say, ‘Annie, my Annie’.”
     He stopped brushing. “If I confessed, would you be upset?”
     She shook her head. “Did you know I could think while I was sleeping? I could hear people talking and I had thoughts, but it was like I was in a deep, dark hole, and I couldn’t get to the top to let anyone know where I was. I tried and tried to scream but no one heard me.” Tears filled her eyes.
     He thumbed away her tears. “Shh. Don’t tell me if it’s going to make you cry.”
     “But I want to tell you this.” She took his hand and brought it to her lips. “Once, before Lily was born, I came in the house when my mama and papa didn’t know I was there. I can still see them standing in the kitchen, their arms around each other. And her called her ‘my Annie’, and then he kissed her. I never did let them know I saw them kissing. But by the way he said her name, I knew he loved her very much. 
     “And I love you very much, Mrs. Martin. Will you ever be able to believe me without being afraid?”
     “When I heard someone call me Annie, I knew it was you. Usually my nickname was Rosie, but Annie was Papa’s love name for my mama. The night she died he called to her over and over again, just like you were doing. He kept saying, ‘Don’t leave me Annie. I need you Annie. Please, my Annie, come back to me.’ I heard you say those words and I tried so hard to climb out of the darkness. ” She sniffed and smiled at him.
     Trey closed his arms around his wife and stroked her hair. “I didn’t want to live if you didn’t. I begged God to either make you well again, or let me die with you. I will spend the rest of my days trying to make up to you for all the pain and hurt you suffered because of my stupidity.”
     “That would be dumb. What a waste of days those would be when we could be enjoying one another, and the changing prairie, and all that’s ahead of us. ” She nipped at his nose. 
     He held her at arm’s length. “But we do need to talk. Peter and Claire are still here.”
     “I know. I thought about that, too, but only since I’ve been awake. I think I would like to talk to Peter. Could you send him in? And would you mind terribly leaving us alone while we talk?”
     He scowled. “What about Claire? Can you—?
     She put her fingers across his lips. “Let me talk with Peter first. Then we’ll decide what to do next. First, finish brushing my hair then go get my brother. I haven’t talked with him in over two years. Under different circumstances I would be wild with anticipation.”
     “Do you have any idea, my Annie, how wild I am with anticipation?” His voice was husky.
     She closed her eyes as he caressed her face. His touch was gentle, yet possessive. Warmth enveloped her as his lips found the hollow between her neck and shoulders.
     He chuckled softly when she shoved him away. “I know, I know—go get your brother, right?”
     “Court me, Trey. I want to get all dressed up and wait in the parlor for you to come calling. I want to giggle when I se you ride up, and swoon when you walk through the door. I want to see your eyes light up when you see me. I want to race you across the prairie, with  my hair blowing and you hollering for me to wait. I want to do things in the right order. I’ve been a Ma since I was a girl, an a bride before I was loved.”

***
     Peter stepped hesitantly into the room and leaned his back against the far wall.
     SueAnna held out her arms toward him. “Peter, please come. I thought I’d never see you again.”
     He approached her bed. “Yeah, well great homecoming, Sis. I should’ve come two years sooner.”
     She laughed. “Two years sooner and you would never have left, silly. Here,” she patted the bed beside here, “sit and talk to me. I want to know everything that has happened since you started back to Ohio. I take it you didn’t make it all the way.” She punched him on the shoulder.
     He sighed and propped one knee onto the bed. “There’s not a whole lot to tell—got as far as Altoona, Illinois, before I ran out of money. Found a job with a farmer—Claire’s father. The rest  is history.” He picked at the covers on her bed. 
     She took his hands in hers. “What made you come back to see use? You never even wrote, Peter. We thought you were dead.”
     He shrugged. “Guilt, I suppose. Claire’s Papa was killed, then her ma died and she grieved being an orphan, as she called it. It made me realize that I left you and Lily in the same predicament. In my mind, you were still little girls. I never thought about you growing up and getting married.”
     “I got married to keep Lily with me.” She told him the story and watched his face cloud. 
     He jumped to his feet. “If I’d been here,  you wouldn’t have had to marry the no-good cheater.” 
     “Peter Karl Morrow, I’m ashamed of  you. You don’t know Trey, and I’m the only one with any right to call him such names—and I refuse to do that. You weren’t here, and nothing can be done about that now. You come right back over here and finish this conversation.”
     He stomped back to her bed and plunked down in the chair next to it. “You can’t possibly mean you love this guy. How can you just forget all that took place? You do remember him holding and whispering sweet nothings into my wife’s ear, don’t  you? How can you forgive him? Tell me, because I’m struggling to get that ugly little scene out of my mind.”
     “Look at me, brother, and listen closely. When our mama never got out of her bed after Lily was born, I took care of her and the baby—I had no choice. When she died a year later, I became Ma to Lily and housekeeper for you and Papa—I had no choice. When Papa died and you left us with the Bittman’s—I had no choice. When the Bittman’s were going  back to Ohio and take Lily and leave me—I made the only choice I had to keep this family together. But those days are gone, Peter, I am now free to choose—and I choose to forgive Trey. I choose to try and recover a marriage that might just have a chance. And I choose to go on with my life. Do you have any idea how good it feels to finally make decisions for myself?”
     “But how can you forget?” He covered his face with his hands. 
     “I can’t—that’s God’s job. He is not only a forgiving Father—He’s also a forgetting one as well. We don’t deserve to be forgiven, Peter. Our sins nailed HIm to the cross just as surely at Trey or Claire’s. I choose to let him do my forgetting for me. But you’ll have to decide for yourself what to do.” She pulled his hands away from his face and kissed his fingers.
     “They loved each other since they were kids. You think they’re going to forget that, Sis?”
     “And you whined halfway across Ohio because you had to leave Sophie Walker. Have you forgotten her?”
     “We were fifteen years old, SueAnna. Of course I’ve forgotten her.”
     “Count backward, dear brother. How old do you think Trey and Claire were? Wouldn’t you be surprised if you saw Sophie again? Don’t you think you might do just what Trey did? By the way—guess who I’ve seen not so long ago.”
     “Tell me it’s Sophie, and I’ll not believe another word you say.” His eyes crinkled in the first hint of a smile since they began their conversation.
     “No—Sage Bowen. And you’ll never guess what he’s doing now. He’s a preacher. Can you believe that?” The smile on her brothers face was a relief.
     “A preacher? You’ve got to be lying now.” He laughed and shook his head. “A preacher. What do  you know about that? Is he here in Prairie View?”
     “No. He preached at a little stage stop that the neighbors use for a church. He…well, he offered to bring me here to have the marriage annulled. He even hinted that he’d be willing to quit the  ministry if I’d just give the word.”
     “Why didn’t you? Would it have been better than what you have now?”
     She slammed her hands on the mattress beside her. “Stop it, Peter. You don’t know anything about what I have now. And no, it would not have been better. I took a vow. What do you think Papa or Mama would have told me? Or, for that matter, what do you think they’d have to say to you? I don’t think I want to continue this conversation if you’re going to be like this, Peter. You’re bitter and angry. When you decide to deal with it, then you come back. I’m not strong enough to carry your baggage.” She turned her head from him and closed her eyes. Why—when for the first time she had a glimmer of hope that she and Trey could make a marriage and a home—why, did her brother challenge the wisdom of her choice? She wasn’t wrong. Was she? Was it wrong to want to be loved. Was it wrong to take another chance?
     “Claire’s going to have a baby.” He sounded as though the death toll had just rung. “I can’t take a chance in this weather to start for home. And I can’t bear the thought of staying where she can see your husband day after day.” He stood. “I wish Sage Bowen would show up here. I could use a preacher about now. “He shuffled out of the room like an old man.
     SueAnna leaned against her pillows. She was so very, very tired. 
***
   Claire raised her head from the table as Peter sat down across from her. “Does she hate me? Have I ruined everything between the two of you?”
     He rubbed his eyes. “I don’t think SueAnna could ever hate anyone. Not even you.”
     “Do you hate me, Peter? Should I leave? Tell me how to make this right. I’ll do anything.”
    Her heart pounded. What if he did ask her to leave? Where would she go? What about the baby?  “Sweetheart, please answer me. Don’t just sit there.” She couldn’t cry…there were no more tears inside of her. But fear tied a knot around her heart.
     “I don’t hate you,” he whispered. “How could I hate the one person I love more than life itself? It’s just…Claire, it hurts so much. I try and try to forget, but when I close my eyes there you are again…you and Trey.” He laid his head on the table. “Give me time. I need time.” His voice was hollow.
     “How much time? Will I know when you’ve forgiven me, or will this be between us for the rest of our lives?”
     When he didn’t answer, she moved away from the table. It was that last thing she wanted to do—but she had to talk to SueAnna. Perhaps if his sister could forgive her, Peter would try to do the same.
     She stood in the doorway of SueAnna’s room. It appeared she was sleeping and she didn’t want to awaken her. This was the first time she’d actually taken a long look at the woman who was Trey Martin’s wife. So tiny. So young. If only she’d known Trey was in this place, she’d never have agreed to come. But would she have been able to give Peter a reason? And would he have been any more understanding than he was now? 
     This was a foolish idea. Why did she think this fragile woman would even consent to see her again, let alone have a conversation. How could she expect her forgiveness?
     ***
     SueAnna looked at the beautiful woman standing in the doorway. so this was Trey’s Claire? This was the ghost she’d been competing with—only she was real now. She no longer had to imagine what she looked like. And it helped her understand how hard it much have been for Trey to forget her.
     Lord, I hope you have made a full deposit of grace in my account today. I’m going to need every bit it it. Trey has told me over and over how much he loves me, and right at this moment I’m choosing to believe him. Erase all doubts and fear from my mnd and replace it, Father, with the assurance of your presence. Give me a love for this woman, just as you have loved me.
     She turned to the woman, still standing in the doorway, and held out her arms. “Do come in. It’s time we got acquainted.